If we had to guess what the highest grossing films of 2011 would be back in January, I’d think we’d be able to get the list about 80% right. We might have substituted Green Lantern for Fast Five, maybe Kung Fu Panda 2 for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but we could probably guess the rest.
Which isn’t to say that the list isn’t surprising. This year’s list of top grossing films tells us something surprising about the state of the cinema today and where it will go in the future. All we have to do is look at the connections.
- The entire list tells us that foreign grosses are very important these days: Overseas grosses were once icing on the cake. A nice addition, but not quite as important as domestic grosses. Not anymore. Each of the Top Ten films have grossed more internationally than they did domestically (sometimes two or three times more). Each and every film had their production budget covered by their foreign grosses (Transformers: Dark of the Moonmade it’s $195 million budget back from Foreign grosses in its first weekend–and then some!). The foreign market can now make or break a film. This is why most producers of blockbusters create these films with an eye on how they would do overseas.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 show that the literary blockbuster is going out with a bang–maybe: The Harry Potter and Twilight franchises are on opposite poles when it comes to quality, both in book form and on the screen. But both have rabid fanbases that guaranteed that every film in the line would sell gangbusters. But, unfortunately for Warner Brothers and Summitt Entertainment, this year marks the end of the Harry Potter franchise and the penultimate installment of the Twilight one. It is unlikely that any literary adaptations, even the eagerly awaited The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Hunger Games adaptations in the pipeline, will match the success of these two. It’s an end of an era.
- The Hangover Part II shows that originality might officially be dead: Some of you might say that the whole list tells you this. After all, the two movies that aren’t sequels are comic book adaptations and the highest grossing “original” film, Bridesmaids, could only reach as high as #12. But The Hangover Part II takes lack of originality to a new level. It was essentially the same film as The Hangover. It had the same premise, the same plot points, and the same ending. Well, not exactly the same. Ed Helms has a facial tattoo instead of a missing tooth and they have to take a Buddhist monk back to his home instead of a baby, but the films were essentially the same. I have nothing against sequels that continue a story. But to simply rehash the same formula, note for note, shows how far the sequel has fallen. And the fact that it was such a success means that we might see more of these carbon copy sequels in the future.
- Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger prove that the comic book film, at least ones from Marvel, isn’t dead…yet: Granted, both films grossed less than Iron Man did in his first go around, but each film–with foreign grosses added–were able to make a sizable profit, enough to warrant sequels for both. Both were fairly well reviewed. We might have to hold off a final judgement until we see how The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and The Man of Steel do before we can definitively prove the genre healthy, but it certainly ain’t dead yet.
- Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, The Hangover Part II, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and Cars 2 prove that a film doesn’t have to be good to be successful: The above five films have an average Fresh rating of 34% over at Rotten Tomatoes.com, the review aggragate site. The site considers 60% or above to be a good film, just to put in perspective how poorly reviewed these films really are. So if you’re the type of person who hates that Hollywood keeps putting out crap year in and year out, well, don’t hate Hollywood. Hate your friends and neighbors who see sparkly vampires and robots beating the grease out of one another again and again.
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a sign that reboots can work, so expect to see more of them: 2001′s Planet of the Apes was supposed to be the film to reboot the franchise. And while it did make a profit, the was critically panned. The reboot was deemed a failure. However, the trend in Hollywood today is that if at first a reboot does not succeed, reboot again. This time around, reviews were better and the money was still there, so it appears that the second time was a charm. Don’t think Hollywood didn’t notice, and be on the look out for more reboots and reboots of reboots in the future.
- Fast Five says that there is an alternative to reboots–going back to basics: 2006′s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift was supposed to be a new direction for the franchise, if not a complete reboot. It grossed the least amount of an F&F film, and the franchise appeared to be dead. 2009′s Fast & Furious reunited the principals from the first film and revitalized the franchise, and this fifth installment was the highest grossing yet. There are plans for a Fast Six and a Fast Seven to be shot back to back. So, in some cases, the best reboot is no reboot at all.
- Cars 2 shows a chink in the Pixar armor: The film was the lowest domestic grossing Pixar film since 1998′s A Bug’s Life. And it was the poorest reviewed Pixar film of all time. For other studios and genres, this would not be that much of a problem. However, Pixar has set the standard in CGI animation in both quality and popularity. It has come out with dead solid perfect films each and every time until now. So the performance of this film, more from a reviews standpoint than an earnings one, IS a cause for concern. This makes next year’s Brave, with its rather pedestrian sword and sorcery plot that wouldn’t normally be a question of how Pixar would execute it, a more dicey proposition, one that could decided where this year was a blip on the radar or the start of a decline.
Chart courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo.com